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updated 1/12/2015 MOUNTAIN PINE BARK BEETLE EPIDEMICS Global Warming and Deforestation Issues The mountain pine beetle epidemic which has hit Colorado and elsewhere is probably strongly connected to climate change. Temperatures have been monitored by the University of Colorado in that state indicating that world-wide warming trends are also impacting Colorado. One speaker in a video series on global warming put out by the University of Colorado (see on video clip below) indicated Colorado is like the canary in the coal mine - it’s an indicator of things to come and a warning to all areas of the country and world. Colorado has been hit hard by a variety of the problems associated with global warming: heat, drought, fire and beetle epidemics. As less snow fall occurs, forests, farmers, ranchers, wildlife and city dwellers will continue to be seriously impacted. For one thing, studies seem to show higher elevation trees take in and process snow melt water better than rain water from a molecular standpoint. We tend to think of all water as the same thing, but there is a slight chemical difference between snow melt water and rain water. When that is reduced, it is possible the trees are not as strong against things like beetles even if water from rain comes later in the year. That idea probably needs to be tested more, but it is something to consider as a possibility. In addition, acid rain probably makes most soils, trees and other plants more vulnerable to problems. When one part of the ecosystem is impacted, so are other parts. Acids in and of itself are a solvent when interacting with substances that react with them. Using common sense, you know from experience that acid eats away at or dissolves thing. Imagine how acidic water, even comparable diluted compared to heavy acids, can react to living tissues. We know it eats limestone such as found in statues and gravestones, but it also impacts minerals in the soil by dissolving them or causing them to leach out. Many kinds of fish do not do well in acidic soils. Drops in Ph can impact a lot of things, and beetle epidemics might very well be linked to weakened life structures in a forest already troubled by drought and heat. In addition, shorter, not as cold of winters might weaken certain plants that require a freezing period as part of their evolutionary makeup. Some seeds require a freezing period before they will germinate the next Spring; this could make it difficult to replace lost trees. Things like this all come together to make our forests less than they could be in the face of a beetle epidemic; Once forests die, their mycorrhizae fungae die and the vitality of the soil is lost. What was once living soil can become desert. Healthy soil is filled with all kinds of microbes with a complex interaction between plants, roots and decaying matter. Animal feces can help fertilize the area, too. Humus can help in soil and water retention; when organic material dries up and goes away, the soil becomes less hospitable to seedlings. In addition, a different kind of forest might come in. If beetle invaded forests have succumbed as dry wood to forest fires, the change in chemistry of the soil after a fire could also alter what comes in. If continued drought occurs, desert conditions might become worse with little new growth in sight that is sustainable to the original life that had been there possibly for millions of years. This has impacts on soil erosion, mud slides, floods and desertification of vast areas that were once bubbling with forest life. All the animals that lived in the now dead forests might either be displaced or have nowhere to go. As their habitats are destroyed, if there are no nearby food sources and shelter types like they what they are used to, they could go extinct especially if they were attuned to certain unique niches. Deforestation without doubt impacts species diversity. Billions of trees and millions of hectares of pine forest have been destroyed by the mountain pine beetle epidemic in the sub-alpine region of Colorado mostly associated with the Rocky Mountain area. This beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosa) is native to the western United States. Normally this insect as well as other bark beetles encourage ecosystem balance by thinning out the trees with undergrowth decay spurring diverse types of growth. It has largely hit lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) in Colorado, but other pines have also been impacted by this and other bark beetles species. The beetles normally help weed out the forests by keeping a diverse age group of trees scattered around, and they help create deadwood aging in various stages of decay which helps the soil and other organisms (like insects and the animals that feed on them) in a variety of ways. The more recent epidemics seem to go beyond normal beetle behavior in that the insects are eating themselves out of house and home. Two generations are being created within one year when there would normally only be one. The warmth of the seasons allows for longer reproduction periods. If you consider each beetle produces on the average of 60 offspring, two generations exponentially adds to the number of beetles both eating and reproducing. On top of this, the beetles come as a package with other small living creatures like fungi, bacteria and mites which can either do direct damage or introduce diseases. They can also become biochemical factories altering the makeup of the trees or giving themselves or the beetles certain advantages. In some ways these symbionts might mix their inner biochemical parts with that of the tree like parts of a jigsaw puzzle, creating new systems or approaches which make the beetle complex stronger and the tree weaker. When trying to protect trees from beetles, we need to look at them as a composite. Also pay attention to pheromone production as both a magnet and a repellent. Early on the male beetles put out pheromones to draw females and encourage mating. Later as many beetles are competing for resources of the tree, they put out repelling pheromones to discourage further beetle aggregation. Research has been applied to use these concepts to help protect trees from infestation. Obviously, more work is needed in this research and elsewhere because we still have lost vast amounts of forest. Although there is tremendous amount of research, including mapping the genomes of these beetles, we still have not figured out a way to stop the epidemics. One thing to consider is whether there is any kind of species specific sound or other energy wave that could deter the beetles from coming into certain areas. One of their feeler mechanisms is sensing the vitality of trees; it seems they are more likely to attack weakened trees than healthier ones. It might be related to VOX emissions as well as other things. If we could tap into this through structured research by carefully adding and eliminating variables we believe cause beetles to aggregate or de-aggregate, we might be able to isolate certain frequencies which could be emitted at long distances around certain large sectors of forest. We would want it to be specific to these particular beetles and not likely to create health risks for other life forms, of course. In addition, if we could interfere with beetle radar mechanisms during flight, we also might be able to impede their travel modes. If they lose direction or the ability to target food sources, it might shut their operations down. Other ways of targeting them might be sending in a virus that attacks their sense of smell or ability to digest host tree substances. If this could be sent through a beetle population, it might kill them from within, much like sending an ant back to the hive with delayed response poison. The main problem with messing with genetics is that you definitely might have unexpected backlashes both within the beetles themselves and other species. The other thing to consider is that the beetles seem to be evolving rather quickly as they put out large numbers of beetles with a statistically few variants better at successfully overcoming the changes due to global warming. Although it seems too soon to see evolution, there seems to be an indication that the beetles are in fact keeping pace with changes in climate. Each of the beetle symbionts (see fungae in montreal review link below) connect with the trees and the beetles themselves in unique ways; their impact is various and can be quite surprising in terms of complexity by shifting and reworking tree structures at the biochemical and genetic level. Some of these organisms use parts of the tree itself to help themselves develop. Trees are made more vulnerable to attack when there is less water during droughts to create sap which helps to expel the beetles both physically and chemically. The fungae that come in with the beetles help destroy the phloem in addition to the beetle eating, egg laying and various activities. One kind of fungae gives the inner bark area a bluish color and it makes the inner wood look cakey or spongey. It looks physically and chemically altered, which it is. How many beetles are needed to kill a tree varies depending on the tree’s health and ability to protect itself. The main problem is in the way the beetles and fungae destroy the channels in the phloem which blocks the tree’s ability to transport food down and water up. It is like someone coming in an blocking your arteries and veins. You can peel back the bark and see the destruction as well as the beetles at various stages of development. Signs of beetle invasion are sawdust around the holes in the bark and at the base of tree, holes in the bark with sap oozing out, and red needles. Trees can look alive for a year while they are actually dying. One of the problems with the loss of large amounts of forest is that trees help absorb carbon dioxide which helps to offset the extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which is adding to the greenhouse effect. Carbon dioxide, as many people know, is one of the greenhouse gases contributing to a blanket of insulation around the earth leading to significant global warming. There are numerous studies showing melting ice caps and warmer weather temperatures. Although there are those who suggest older trees do not take up as much carbon dioxide, there are indications that old-growth forests act as carbon sinks taking in quite a bit of carbon dioxide. When our forests die, some of our major allies in the battle against global warming are lost. In addition, their value as lovely places for restoration, privacy, peace and ecological homes for diverse animal and plant populations cannot be overestimated. When we lose a lot of our forests to mass devastations like beetles and fires, we are losing ground to the greenhouse effect because the trees give up carbon dioxide as their body parts dry up and decay. The more things warm up, the more things like drought and epidemics will occur, and the more forests will die giving up more carbon dioxide while also ceasing carbon dioxide absorption/oxygen release during photosynthesis. Forests help create oxygen. When we lose our forests it is a big deal; it impacts everything, absolutely everything. This is another reason why humans need to stop destroying nature while developing cities. Video Clips on Mountain Pine Beetle Infestations video clip (Trillions of Bark Beetles are Eating Billions of Trees w/ Dr. Reese Halter) video clip University of Colorado on mtn pine btle epidemic - Jeff Mitton, Scott Ferrenberg, etc. (excellent introduction) video clip of airplane views above forests showing widespread beetle devastation in Colorado (excellent photography) Scientific Research on Mountain Pine Beetle Infestations University of Colorado Mountain Research Station Climate change and range expansion of an aggressive bark beetle: evidence of higher beetle reproduction in naïve host tree populations; Timothy J. Cudmore1, Niklas Björklund2, Allan L. Carroll3 andB. Staffan Lindgre. Journal of Applied Ecology. Volume 47, Issue 5, pages 1036–1043, October 2010 Aukema, B. H., Bentz, B., Carroll, A.L., Hicke, J.A., Raffa, Romme, W.H., K.F., Turner, M.G. (2008). Cross-scale drivers of natural disturbances prone to anthropogenic amplification: the dynamics of bark beetle eruptions. BioScience 58 (6): 501- 517. doi: 10.1641/B580607 Ayres, M. & Lombardo, M. (2000). Assessing the consequences of global change for forest disturbance from herbivores and pathogens, 262 (263-286), Hanover, NH: The Science of the Total Environment Retrieved from Bentz, B.J., Regniere, J., Fettig, C.J., Hansen, E.M., Hayes, J.L., Hicke, J.A. , . . . Seybold, S.J. (2010). Climate change and bark beetles of the western United States and Canada: direct and indirect effects. Bioscience, 60 (8). 602-613. doi: 10.1525/bio.2010.60.8.6 Borner, L., Luyssaert, S.,., Knohl, A., Hessenmoller, D., Schulze, E.D. (2008). Old-growth forests as global carbon sinks. Nature 455, 213-215. doi:10.1038/nature07276 Carroll A. L., Dymond C. C., Ebata T. Kurz W. A., Neilson E. T., Rampley G. J., . . .Safranyik L. (2008). Mountain pine beetle and forest carbon feedback to climate change. Nature 452, 987-990. doi:10.1038/ Ferrenberg, S.M. & Mitton, J.B. (2012). Mountain pine beetle develops an unprecedented summer generation in response to climate warming. The American Naturalist, 179 (5), E163-E171. doi 10.1086/665007 Other Information on the Mountain Pine Beetle or Global Warming cycle/images/SeaLevelGHGPaleoTempSiddall_Forcing.gif/view
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